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Replica concentration camp for patriotic education of teenagers opened in Karelia

Alexander Gnetnev
Replica camp in Karelia
Photo by Alexander Gnetnev
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On December 5, the Historic Reenactment of Everyday Life of Finnish Resettlement Camps' Prisoners in 1941–1944 Project was officially launched in the Karelian village of Vatnavolok on the territory of a local recreational center. A complex of wooden barrack-type buildings, surrounded by observation towers, was constructed in a square fenced with barbed wire. The authors of the reenactment intend to bring schoolchildren to a "concentration camp", so that they can learn about the period of the Finnish occupation of Soviet Karelia, the correspondent of 7x7 reports.

The project was organized by the Otkrytye Vozmozhnosty (‘Open Opportunities’) Children's Charity Foundation. It won a presidential grant of 2.8 million rubles in the Preserving Historical Memory Category for this purpose. The grant application says that the project’s aim is to show "a not commonly-known chapter in the country's history" to ninth-grade students, to tell them about the occupation of Russian lands by Finns during the Great Patriotic War, "to plunge them into the atmosphere of events they will not learn about from history textbooks or at school", thereby awakening "their sense of belonging, compassion for their fellow countrymen and ultimately affecting their unity towards the values of their country".

The scenery of the Vesuri Movie, which was shot on the territory of Karelia in 2019, was used for the construction of the object. According to the description, the movie is based on the memories of young prisoners of resettlement camps about the days of the Finnish occupation.

Бутафорский лагерь в Карелии

Replica camp in Karelia. Photo by Alexander Gnetnev

Minister for national and regional policy of Karelia Sergei Kiselyov, who attended the opening of the project, supported the construction of the "concentration camp" in the village of Vatnavolok for school excursions and doubted that the project would affect relations with Finland negatively, since "historical truth could not interfere with relations". Earlier, opponents of the reconstruction stated that the Karelian initiative could provoke a conflict with the neighboring state. The minister also admitted that he himself was raised by parents who had survived imprisonment in Finnish concentration camps.

At a press conference dedicated to the opening of the facility, Deputy Chairman of the Karelian Union of Former Young Prisoners of Fascist Concentration Camps Lenina Makeeva said that hunger, diseases, and overcrowded accommodation, in which families had to live, were her most vivid memories about her stay in the Finnish camp.

“We were in Concentration Camp 5 for two years and eight months. There was a terrible congestion there. There were 15 people including two sucklings living on 20 meters. Hunger began. Epidemic began. And approximately 1942 was the worst year in terms of death rate. Three people out of seven starved in our family. The same was in other families,” Makeeva said. “The conditions were difficult; the nutrition was poor. Teenagers worked since the age of 14, women were escorted to work in the town. Young people were transported to different places for lumber logging since the age of 16. And of course, many could not stand little food, poor nutrition, and a huge amount of work. A third of those transported for logging under convoy never returned from there.”

Replica camp in KareliaReplica camp in Karelia
Replica camp in KareliaReplica camp in Karelia

Lenina Makeeva sees nothing wrong with the fact that the reconstructed concentration camp is not located where such objects historically were. In her opinion, it would be improbable to implement such a project on the territory, for example, of the Fifth Settlement in Petrozavodsk where the Finnish camp was actually located.

“Let’s say, there is some kind of collective here [in Vatnavolok]. This is a territory. Then it seems to be protected to some extent. This is very important,” she explained.

In addition, according to Makeeva, it was necessary to do something with the scenery left after the shooting of the Vesuri Movie that began to be destroyed.

“It all takes money. Moreover, the subject of attracting young people, school students, was brought up. And I believe that this very place is, like, so real,” concluded Lenina Makeeva.

Replica camp in KareliaReplica camp in Karelia
Replica camp in KareliaReplica camp in Karelia

There is a program for the "concentration camp's" visitors; it is supposed to include a lecture on the history of Soviet-Finnish relations, excursions to the barracks, and lessons of patriotism. In particular, the organizers said that local Cossacks would conduct "lessons of courage" for teenagers.

 “We have a module on patriotism. Well-known experts of our town and youth outreach experts are going to work with children. There will be lessons of courage, military and historical quizzes. <...> The Petrozavodsk Cossack Community is our project partner namely within the framework of historical and patriotic education. Representatives of this society will conduct classes for children,” said Natalya Abramova, the head of the Otkrytye Vozmozhnosty Charity Foundation, at a press conference dedicated to the launch of the project.

A major scandal preceded the opening of the replica concentration camp in Karelia. The project's organizers initially planned to place buildings in other localities, but some local residents opposed the closeness of barracks and towers. The idea of using structures from a feature film's scenery also caused confusion, as there are real historic buildings in Karelia where Soviet prisoners were held during the Finnish occupation.

At first, the buildings were supposed to be placed in the village of Shaydoma, but the organizers abandoned the idea. Another option for the object’s location was the embankment in the town of Kondopoga, but this initiative faced public protest. Residents prepared a letter to a deputy of the regional parliament demanding to prevent placing the barracks in the town.

"Placing the Museum of Sorrow in the most beautiful place of the town is not only inappropriate, but is also causing a barrage of anger among citizens and residents of Karelia! Someone is skillfully using this ridiculous, anti-human project, made of bits and pieces of the filmmakers’ scenery, as a grant, wanting to stick it someplace… But for what? Is it for the sake of people? Is it for the sake of improving the embankment the town is desperately lacking? Or is it all to cause suffering to those who survived the horrors of war and to remind them of them constantly? 160 former young prisoners of concentration camps live in Kondopoga and the district. They demand stopping this project!" says the letter from residents of Kondopoga to the deputies of the Karelian Legislative Assembly.

Eventually, the concentration camp’s model was placed in the village of Vatnavolok by Lake Onega 30 km from Kondopoga. The organizers claim that it represents "a collective of all Finnish concentration camps".


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